What’s the deal with all the corporate accelerator programs?

What’s the deal with all the corporate accelerator programs?

Several years ago NBC was facing a problem. As GE’s legendary CEO, Jack Welch, once put it, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” In other words, how could NBC (then owned by GE) stay relevant in an environment where eyeballs for media and entertainment were shifting to technology platforms in Silicon Valley?

This was essentially the question I attempted to answer while working at NBC. This serious corporate innovation problem was being tackled by firms focused not only in entertainment and media but also in nearly all sectors of corporate America. Our solution was to partner with venture capitalists and leverage their ability to have a pulse on the potentially disruptive innovation trends occurring in the startup community.

Corporate Accelerators in 2015

Now let’s fast forward several years to 2015. What do we see happening in the world of corporate innovation today?

Corporate accelerators and incubators are popping up all over the place. Is this a fad or a lasting trend? No one really knows the answer. Consulting firms like Booz Allen & Hamilton and Clayton Christensen’s Innosight are even publishing guides to help corporations understand this new world:

Corporate Incubators: Exploiting a Company’s Intellectual Assets

Booz Allen & Hamilton PDF Six Lessons for Corporations Building Innovation Accelerators


Corporate Accelerators Powered By TechStars

One of the more interesting trends with corporate accelerators is that many corporations are outsourcing the process of creating these internal accelerators.

Why would they do this? In order to have a successful corporate accelerator, corporations need to understand how to attract talented entrepreneurs, how to help them grow their businesses, etc. Let’s face it, these are not the core competencies of most large corporations. Many corporations have a hard enough time keeping pace with what’s happening in the entrepreneurial community let alone being able to tap into and leverage it.

One venture capital firm in particular has mastered the process of tapping into the entrepreneurial community and adding value to early stage startups. TechStars has become so good at attracting young startups and accelerating them through mentorship and funding that they are now packaging their services for corporations. The program is called Powered by TechStars.

The types of corporations that are participating in the Powered by TechStars program are diverse. Check out the list:

The Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by Techstars is a three-month, mentorship-driven startup accelerator based in Kansas City, Missouri. Located in the thriving Crossroads Arts District of Kansas City, the program helps startups build the future of mobile health that changes the world one patient or consumer at a time. 

The second R/GA Accelerator is designed for startups developing connected hardware products and software services with the goal of helping them to build businesses and brands that can scale. R/GA has selected ten startups to join its three-month, immersive, mentor-driven program. The 10 companies reflect the fast growing realm of the Internet of Things that is powering connected devices – from homes and cars to warehouses and aircraft.

The Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, powered by Techstars, is a program created to accelerate startups building companies focused on education. At the end of the program, each team will participate in a demo day pitch, presenting to critical stakeholders in the edtech community of angel investors, venture capitalists, mentors, education industry leaders and potential business development partners from Kaplan and across the education industry.

The Microsoft Accelerator partnered with TechStars to create a three month intensive, deep immersion program for ten startups developing in the cloud. The program is held on-site in Seattle, WA and currently has two areas of focus: Kinect and Windows Azure. Startups will have access to top-notch mentorship, technical training and support and the chance to pitch to angel investors and venture capitalists at the end of the program.

Disney Accelerator, powered by Techstars, is helping today’s technology innovators turn their dreams for new media and entertainment experiences into reality. Through Disney Accelerator, select companies will gain access to the range of creative expertise and resources of The Walt Disney Company to help them develop their innovative new entertainment experiences and products.

The Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars, offers a unique programme designed to take your business further. The Barclays Accelerator is fintech-focused and overflowing with opportunities with first access to a catalogue of Barclays APIs and data, World-class mentorship from industry experts, introductions to the influential Techstars and Barclays networks, and a 13-week programme that could accelerate your business by more than a year.

Corporate Accelerators Managing Their Own Programs

But not all large corporation are outsourcing their innovation accelerators to TechStars. Chobani announced late last year that they are creating a Food Accelerator program “to help nurture, support, and celebrate today’s entrepreneurs who have founded young and growing companies inspired by our same beliefs, so that together we can positively shape the food industry of tomorrow.”

Chobani is not the only company creating accelerators without the assistance and expertise of TechStars. TechCrunch notes, “companies like Citrix, Pearson, Samsung, and Volkswagen have also joined this movement in recent years with their own programs.

How do you think corporate America should tap into the entrepreneurial community? Is the Powered by TechStars program the best solution or is it better for these programs to be managed internally?